How Colleges’ Carnegie Classifications Have Changed Over Time

Every three years, Indiana University’s Center on Postsecondary Research gives the higher education community an early Christmas present in its updated Carnegie classifications. For some colleges, their new classification is a shiny new toy. Others get a lump of coal with a classification that they did not want.

The 2021 version includes many different types of classifications based on different institutional characteristics. But the basic classification (based on size, degrees awarded, and research intensity) always garners the most attention from the higher education community. I took a look at the 2018 update three years ago, and this post provides an updated analysis of the 2021 classifications.

The item that always gets the most attention in the Carnegie classifications is Research 1 (research universities: very high activity) status, as this is based on research metrics and is a key indicator of prestige. In the 2021 dataset, nine universities moved from R2 to R1 (Louisiana, Denver, Utah State, Texas-San Antonio, North Dakota State, Memphis, Kent State, Baylor, and Old Dominion). Three went the other direction: Brandeis, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The R1 line has continued to grow, moving from 96 universities in 2005 to 137 in 2021.


At the two-year level, there are competing trends of institutional consolidations in the for-profit sector and more community colleges offering bachelor’s degree programs. The number of baccalaureate/associate colleges declined slightly in 2021 (going from 269 in 2018 to 250 in 2021), but this is a larger share of two-year institutions.

2021: 250

2018: 269

2015: 248

2010: 182

2005: 144

IPEDS counts these institutions as four-year universities, but the Carnegie classification (basic codes 14 and 23) is a better way to flag them as two-year colleges.

Going forward, Carnegie classifications will continue to be updated every three years in order to keep up with a rapidly-changing higher education environment. Get ready to see a lot of institutional press releases during the next few weeks highlighting desired changes!

Otherwise, I wish everyone a restful holiday season and stay safe out there.

Author: Robert

I am an a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who studies higher education finance, accountability policies and practices, and student financial aid. All opinions expressed here are my own.

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